With my hair in the wind and my hands around her waist, my money worries soon subsided. It’s funny how a motorbike ride can put things into perspective…
While staying in Luang Prabang, Laos, I lost my purse. It was my first ever time travelling solo and my first ever time in Asia, too. I had less than a day’s worth of money left to my name (plus a packet of Oreos), and I still had to pay my guesthouse for my stay, check-out and fly to Cambodia.
Western Union is “far away”…
The morning after I’d lost my purse I ventured out to find my closest Western Union. After wandering aimlessly around the same area, I asked a woman for directions. Despite not speaking much English, she explained that it was ‘far away’, but I didn’t have any option but to go anyway, so I thanked her and left.
A little while later she was there again, only this time she was on her motorbike at the side of the road, gesturing for me to hop on the back.
I have never been on a motorbike before -let alone a motorbike with a stranger without a helmet in a foreign country – but I couldn’t refuse. Her kindness didn’t go unnoticed, and the shed-like Western Union really was in the middle of nowhere. I never would have found it on foot.
How To Keep Your Money Safe Abroad
Since nobody is immune to a lost purse, here are 5 tips to carry money safely abroad. After all, who better to take advice from than somebody who did all the wrong things herself first? (Perhaps a traveller who did all the right things first, of course, but where’s the fun in that?)
Needless to say it’s good to have a plan, particularly if you’re travelling alone as I was, so before you go be sure to think through how much you’ll spend in a day, what different currencies you’ll need and whether you’ll have regular access to cash (ATM) machines.
Figuring out these things will give you peace of mind when on the move and help you to stay organised.
2. The hidden money belt
These are ideal for storing your passport, cash and cards. If your wallet or luggage goes missing, you’ll always have a back-up plan if you’re wearing a money belt. Simply keep enough cash in your wallet for the day and separate the rest out.
Tip: Don’t let others see your money belt when out and about – if you need extra cash, go to the restroom to get what you need in private.
3. Use your hotel room’s safe
In my experience, safes are, well, safe. However, if in any doubt, keep your valuables with you (so long as they’re easy to carry!).
4. Take a minimum of 2 bank cards
I made a mistake by only taking one bank card, but you don’t have to. With an extra debit or credit card (even one that hasn’t any funds in it), a friend at home can transfer money over to your account no problem; just remember not to keep both bank cards in the same place.
5. What about cash cards for travelling?
When I lost my purse in Laos, my one and only debit card went along with it. I had a Thomas Cook Cash Passport (a travel money card) at my guesthouse, but I’d already spent the credit on it the day before. The problem was, the only card that could top the credit up on it was my LOST debit card.
It didn’t (and still doesn’t) make any sense to me that somebody else couldn’t top it up from home (it’s not as if they were stealing money from it, after all), but after endless calls – that led to an almighty phone bill of over £250 – it seemed the travel card I’d got from Thomas Cook was of no use.
— Katherine ✍ (@ksfahey) 26 March 2016
If you lose your money and have no back-up plan, contact anybody who will offer help – either through social media, email or by phone – and get them to transfer money to your closest Western Union. These are all over the world, and you can find your closest Western Union location here.
Note: There is a charge if you use this service. However, when you really have no other alternative, Western Union is a lifesaver!
⦁ On buses, flights and taxis
Keep your must-haves with you in a small backpack. On long bus rides through Thailand, I had to put my large backpack in the luggage compartment beneath the bus before I boarded. We made lots of stops and, although it didn’t happen to me, luggage could have easily been taken. If you have everything you need to get by on you, you needn’t over worry.
⦁ Write down important numbers and keep copies in every bag
Who would you contact for help in an emergency? Sometimes it’s not just your purse that goes missing, it’s your phone and the saved contacts on it. It might seem OTT, but as sat inside a Western Union without WiFi and only a limited amount of charge left on my phone, that scrap of paper meant a lot.
⦁ New money
In Cambodia I had issues with ‘too old’ money, where shop assistants, waitresses and anybody dealing with cash would reject notes that were crinkled or slightly damaged. It’s the only country I’ve been to where this was a major issue (to the extent that I was made to feel guilty for trying to pay with money that wasn’t freshly printed). More than once I had to pay over the odds for something, so be careful!
Thanks for Reading!
If you enjoyed this post or found it to be useful, please comment, follow or share. I value any feedback, even if it’s negative (that way I know my writing is at least being read!). You can also find me on Twitter @Ksfahey. Thanks for reading!